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Baby Steps to Networking

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Psst... Nobody likes the idea of networking.

Professional NetworkingBy definition (thank you, Google), it sounds painful: networking is interacting with other people with the intention of exchanging information and developing professional or social contacts. Tedious, right?

And why bother networking at work? Well, it helps us connect with new work colleagues who may become friends, or find new job opportunities. It's actually not that surprising to learn that 85% of jobs are found through personal and professional connections, but what's crazy is that only 25% of professionals actually network!

Do you cringe at the idea of meeting new people? 

Why don't we network more if it's so good for us? Because it's awkward! And it takes time, effort, and did we already mention that it can be pretty uncomfortable?

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We put so many expectations around the idea of networking. Like something really great better come out of it: a new job opportunity, a follow-up call, a new insight, something to make it worth the time, the effort, and the angst. With high expectations like these, it's no wonder why networking can be overwhelming. A less overwhelming approach can be to break it down in smaller, more manageable networking baby steps.  

5 baby steps to better networking

  1. Find people you want to get to know (or get to know better...). You can always bypass this and let serendipity run its course! Attend a conference, a work happy hour, or a lecture where that person will also be in attendance. Explore your existing network (hello, Linkedin!) If your company is hybrid, come into the office on a day you're not expected or attend an event your company might be hosting. Use your company's internal networking tools if they have them. Take a mini class at your local botanical garden or conservatory. The point here is there are lots of ways to "find people to get to know" a.k.a. to network with.

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  2. Be intentional about attending/reaching out. Keep your purpose simple: be curious about the person or event itself. Once you have a specific person in mind, do a little research. Check out their career, insta, whatever - don't go too crazy, just look for one thing that resonates with you. Pro tip: If you can't seem to find anything compelling about a person, don't reach out to them yet! Reframe your discovery, find a different person. Don't make networking hard - start with someone you actually want to get to know because you find them interesting in some way or you have something specific you want to learn from them. P.S. Don't reach out with a job request.

  3. Show up. Even if your enthusiasm for the call or the event has been diminishing rapidly as it approaches, don't bail! Pull yourself together and wear something that's a favorite of yours (shirt, shoes, watch) and show up - click the join button, take a ride share to the event. 

  4. Stay (or stay on if virtual) for at least 20-minutes. Sit through a session at a conference, have one drink (a glass of water or a coffee counts!) at an event, raise your hand and ask a question. Finish the mini course.

  5. Be yourself. Don't make awkward small talk. Just be there and the opportunity to engage will show itself. And you can always just smile and say "hey" to get the conversation started.

You will get something out of networking if you go into it with an open mind and a natural curiosity about the other person. What you learn may not be what you expect, but let destiny take its course. Start by finding someone you're excited to meet, show up, and give the the opportunity a chance.